I was sitting at the long traffic light in the middle of all of the construction at 4th and Gandy in St. Petersburg the other day, contemplating a nap, when I started taking mental notes of all of the cars around me. This was nothing unusual. I noticed a good bit of new cars, like the two new Jeep Cherokee’s that were behind me and to my left. There was an AMG Mercedes Benz, a Mustang (because there’s a Mustang at every light) and what I assume are various rental cars and SUV mom-mobiles. Then I got to thinking about the changing landscape of the average cars you see on the road. The recent gasoline crisis has had a lasting effect on new cars being built today and the governments gas mileage standards, known as C.A.F.E.- Corporate Average Fuel Economy-are rising. That means that there are less cars on the road these days like that gorgeous AMG Benz at the light and my SS sleeper sedan. It seems that the rear wheel drive, V8 is going the way of the dead dinosaurs that currently power most cars and that makes me sad.
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The Jeeps that I was glancing at in traffic looked nice, as most Jeeps do, so I looked up what’s under the hood and I was shocked to find out that the standard engine is a 2.4 liter 4-cylinder with a 9-speed automatic transmission. That kind of blew my mind a little bit. Not the part about the engine in a Cherokee being only slightly larger than the Diet Coke bottle in my refrigerator, but this little engine has a transmission with NINE different gears in it and it’s pulling a 5-passenger, trail rated SUV around town, because who takes their Jeeps off-road these days. Apparently, these things get over 30mpg on the highway and better than 20 in city driving. I have a friend who drives a V8 Cherokee that is over 10 years old and that thing gets about 12mpg all the time, it makes groaning noises like a stranded whale and that’s the way it’s always been. Well, not anymore.
First, please indulge Professor Erica in a bit of history. Gerald Ford was the stumbling President trying to get America back on the right track after the Nixon administration screwed so many things up, Detroit was about to build it’s last convertible, and a horse named Foolish Pleasure won the Kentucky Derby. The governments C.A.F.E. Standards first came about in the year of our lord 1975 as a reaction to rising gas prices because of an oil embargo from the middle east that happened in the early 70’s. The way things were going back in 1975, the country was going downhill and fast. Sound familiar? The US government basically had to force Detroit to stop making big, lazy, crappy cars that got terrible gas mileage and fell completely apart long before 100,000 miles. Detroit had so much confidence in their own cars, that the speedometers only went to 85mph and the odometers were only good for 99,999 miles.
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To make this long story even longer, in 1978, the average gas mileage of all the cars each manufacturer produces had to be greater than 18mpg. Fast-forward to the year of our lord 2016 and the C.A.F.E. average has risen to 41mpg for smaller cars. By the year 2025, it rises to 60mpg. That means that if you are a car company and you want to sell cars here in the good old USofA, the cars you make will have to average 60mpg. There’s only a few ways that can really happen. Battery powered cars will have to become very commonplace and have gas mileage equivalents of over 100mpg to offset things like pickup trucks and SUV’s that will presumably have 3 cylinder engines that are smaller than a 12oz can of Diet Coke, and 21 speed transmissions.
To me, a regular girl who loves her dinosaur cars with snarly V8 engines, rear wheel drive and no real regard for gas mileage, this is a very frightening prospect. We are at the beginning of a sea change on our roadways. The end of large, powerful, FUN cars is upon us and there isn’t anything I can do about it. I suppose it has to happen, given the near collapse of the economy 5 years ago when gas went to over $5 a gallon and the apocalypse seemed near.
The only silver lining I can find in this dark cloud of a bland, egg shaped car future, is if you have the money right now to buy the last of the V8’s that are currently being built, and there are plenty, stock up now on: V8 Corvettes, the Chevy Camaro SS is amazing, that Shelby GT350 has the best engine Ford has ever built in history, and even Dodge has stupid fast Hellkittens that they will sell you even though they are so powerful, they should probably be illegal. You, the wise investor, should get your hands on as many of them as you can because there will always be people like me who crave something fast and powerful and not give a damn if gas is $10 a gallon.
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So don’t try to sell me on turbocharged 4-cylinder cars that have as much power as a V8 either because I’m not stupid. Those little turbo cars may be fast and powerful when they’re new, but I wonder how long those little sewing machine engines can hold together when they are running at their limit to make that power more often than not. Detroit may soon find itself going retro with those familiar 99,999 mile odometers again.